Island-trained paramedics mull move to western Canada

Ryan Cooke comment@theguardian.pe.ca
Published on February 21, 2013
Paramedic

When Morissa Ings graduates from the Holland College primary care paramedicine program this summer, she’ll be looking at two guarantees.

One, there won’t be any full-time work available for her in her home province of P.E.I. Two, the prospect of heading to Alberta will be ringing in her head.

“There’s a huge temptation. Out there, as a primary care paramedic, we can make $350-plus a day.”

With a three week-on, two week-off schedule, that translates to about $150,000 each year — over three times what she could make at home.

It’s a trend that P.E.I. Paramedics Union leader Jason Woodbury has noticed growing in his field and he fears the effect it will have on Islanders.

“There’s a lot of leave of absence requests coming through to the employers with regards to leaving to pursue a career in the western part of the country,” he said.

While he says the outmigration of paramedics isn’t at a critical point yet, it’s hurtling towards it. The demographic of the west-bound medics is the most troubling part, he said.

“It seems to be the younger generation. They finish their schooling at Holland College and the opportunities are not all that bright for full-time employment on P.E.I.”

Woodbury is calling for a structured plan to keep young paramedics from leaving, he said.

“Government and management and union need to sit down and talk before it gets critical,” he said.

Nova Scotia paramedic union leader Terry Chapman says morale is at an all-time low in his province due to the outmigration. As many as 90 advanced care paramedics have left the region to find work in Western Canada, he estimates.

Ings sees the pros along with the cons.

“While it’s a little scary of a thought, at the same time, it’s kind of a positive thing for us new beginners. Employment-wise, it opens up a lot of doors for us.”

But she notes there are some duties primary care paramedics cannot administer. That, coupled with a lack of advanced care paramedics due to outmigration, people like Ings could find themselves in helpless situations.

“My scary thought is that if I need that (additional help), is it going to be available to me when that patient needs it?”

In P.E.I., the lack of trained responders extends beyond paramedicine.

Woodbury, who is the fire chief in Miscouche, said he’s seen several leave of absence requests come across his desk from young firefighters heading west.

“It’s the whole EMS system,” he said. “We’re starting to see this trickle effect within the fire service as well, with the retention and demand for volunteer firefighters within the province.”

Woodbury believes things are only going to get worse for everybody, not just emergency services.

“It makes it very difficult. These rural communities are going to be dormant if employment doesn’t change.”